Santa Semana is a special time in Seville, the heat soaked capital of Andalucía in southern Spain. It takes place in the week leading up to the Christian celebration of Easter and involves hugely popular processions of so-called pasos, truck-pulled floats full of life-like wooden sculptures highlighting the Virgin Mary or scenes from the Passion.
Ahead of this year’s Holy Week a celebration event was held this week in Westminster Cathedral Hall in central London hosted by Spanish Tourism and the city of Seville.
Launched with words from the deputy head of the commission from Spain’s London ambassador, the evening focused on Seville-based pianist Germán Garcia and some extraordinary singing by Sevillano Álex Ortiz.
Álex sang Saeta, a type of song associated with the procession of the Virgin Mary through the streets of Seville. Saeta dates back several centuries in Catholic Spain and today includes elements of Flamenco. Álex’s signing was incredibly intense, plaintive and emotional. It’s normally sung to a statue sung from a Seville balcony as a statue of Jesus passes on a pasos, but in Westminster Hall was embraced by a hushed audience.
The city is famous for orchards of orange trees and spring blossom. Thirty-one thousand trees are thriving today. The scent of orange blossom is like no other, and the scent fills the air in early March. The small, bitter tasting fruit is used in marmalade making and to flavour the most delicious Brunaj Espumoso de Naranja, an orange juice flavoured sparkling wine. Along with the soulful passionate singing of Alex, the orange-flavoured sparkling wine was the discovery of the night. Well, along with tables laden with well chosen tapas. ‘Iberica cured meats; chorizo and Salchichon from Andalucía served with ‘pan con tomate’ and ‘picos’ bread.
An usual flavour combination that would grace the early rounds of Masterchef was Crujiente de quesos, toffee flavoured filo pastry with a blend of Spanish cheeses was far tastier than it sounds with toffee dominating but gently cut with the warm, tart cheese. Other tapas included ‘Cucharita de tarta de atún rojo’ (tuna tartare with a citric and mustard dressing), served on small metal spoon and tasting fresh, salty and carefully prepared.
A selection of sweet bits and pieces made the most of Seville’s association with oranges and included Tortas de aceite Inés Rosales (flaky orange flavoured biscuits), orange candies from family-owned producer Huerta de Montelerio and Tacos de Tarta de Santiago (almond cake).
The music, food and flavours conjured up the heat and passion of the southern Spanish city and I’m sure had many guests promising to visit the city this year, if only to drink a glass of Brunaj Espumoso de Naranja in a café in on the edge of a heat drenched plaza.